SA preps for flu season: the importance of jabs and boosting immunity health

Globally, flu is a big problem, with three to four million people getting severely ill each year. Picture: cottonbro studio

Globally, flu is a big problem, with three to four million people getting severely ill each year. Picture: cottonbro studio

Published Apr 16, 2024


AS FLU season approaches, South Africa is ready with this year’s flu vaccine already in stock.

Dr Cathelijn Zeijlemaker, a family doctor and the medical director of Netcare’s Primary Care division, says there are different forms of flu with each form being caused by a different viral strain.

These viral strains change every year, which is why a new flu vaccine is necessary annually to keep everyone safe.

Globally, flu is a big problem, with three to four million people getting very sick from it each year. Unfortunately, this leads to hundreds of thousands of deaths. This shows just how important it is for people to get their flu shots to protect themselves and others.

Our body has a natural defence system, the immune system, which fights off germs and keeps us safe from sickness and diseases. It’s made up of different parts of the body, like organs and cells, that work together to protect us from harmful things we might run into.

Getting vaccinated can also help our body fight off diseases without having to get sick first. Picture: Polina Tankilevitch/Pexels

Dr Pete Vincent from Netcare Medicross Tokai told Independent Media Lifestyle that if you’ve been sick before, your immune system is usually good at fighting off the same bug so you don’t get sick from it again.

Getting vaccinated can also help our body fight off diseases without having to get sick first.

Medical experts are emphasising the importance of getting flu vaccinations to protect against the seasonal outbreak.

But beyond vaccinations, there’s a question on everyone’s mind: What can each of us do to avoid getting sick and boost our immune systems during the colder months?

Dr Vincent said some key strategies to maintain a healthy immune system. A well-rounded immune defence includes a balanced and diverse diet, consistent physical activity, sufficient sleep, and staying hydrated with six to eight glasses of water daily.

He stresses that these habits should not just be a winter practice but a year-round commitment to support overall health and well-being.


Try to eat five servings of different fruit and veg each day to get a variety of nutrients.

Fresh fruit and vegetables, including herbs and spices, provide good dietary sources of vitamins and minerals we need.

“Over winter, we are fortunate in South Africa to have locally-grown citrus fruit rich in vitamin C and many other types of nutritious fresh produce in season.”

Lean proteins including seafood and beans, whole grains such as barley, brown rice, quinoa and buckwheat, as well as nuts and seeds provide dietary sources of other immune-boosting nutrients including vitamin D, Omega 3 fatty acids and zinc.

Live culture yoghurt is recommended to help keep the balance of beneficial bacteria in our gut biome, which is important for the functioning of the immune system.

“Major factors that are very important in keeping a healthy immune system are sleep, regular exercise, a good work-life balance, keeping alcohol intake to a minimum and no binge drinking or smoking,” Dr Vincent said.

To combat misinformation, he has identified several myths that people should stop believing:

  • Increasing my regular dose of vitamin and mineral supplements will boost my immune system.
  • Gargling with salt or warm water will kill viruses.
  • Exercise can weaken my immune system.
  • If I get vaccinated with a flu jab I am protected against all viruses.
  • Getting a flu shot compromises your immune system.
  • I was born with a good immune system so will not get sick.

Key habits to adopt to prevent common colds and other illnesses:

  • Get vaccinated with the latest trivalent flu vaccine which has just been released.
  • In good weather, at least 30 minutes of brisk walking daily, is essential.
  • Stop smoking and reduce alcohol intake.
  • Sensible eating and a balanced diet, including watching your weight so the “winter bulge” does not get out of hand.
  • Dress appropriately for the weather, and keep human contact to a minimum in family gatherings. Another interesting fact is that playing music at meal times should be avoided so that you do not have to speak loudly to be heard, as this increases the airborne distribution of secretions.
  • Sensible sleeping patterns.

“It is important to understand your and your child’s risks, and these can be discussed with your general practitioner or treating doctor,” he said.

“For those dealing with these respiratory conditions, it’s essential to regularly use their preventive inhaler, ideally twice a day. Relying solely on the emergency inhaler isn't enough to properly manage the condition,” Dr Vincent said.

Parents should take good care of their kids’ health by providing a balanced diet, ensuring they get enough sleep based on their age, keeping up with necessary vaccinations, and encouraging regular physical activity.

Stress in children and adults, can weaken the immune system if it’s not handled properly.

Taking steps to maintain good psychological health is just as important as physical well-being for children to prevent illness and stay healthy, Dr Vincent noted.